Starring: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver
Rated: PG-13 for sequences of horror violence, terror, disturbing images and language
Running time: 99 minutes
Bottom line: A must for Sam Raimi fans
Sam Raimi has gone back to using his powers for evil, and it’s a good thing.
Raimi made a name for himself with his series of “Evil Dead” movies. And if you’ve seen them, you know that Raimi’s sense of humor is unlike any other. He combines shock with schlock, murder with parody and suspense with silliness. When it comes to style the man occupies his own ZIP code.
But fans also know that for around eight years now, Raimi has devoted (wasted?) most of his energy to the Spider-Man franchise, a predictable series of summer blockbusters that don’t resemble Raimi’s other work in any way. It’s been disappointing to say the least.
The good news is, with “Drag Me to Hell” Raimi has returned as his true self with a horror/comedy whose story is more fitting for 2009 than anything else that will be released this year.
Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is a bank loan officer and has a handsome, lovable boyfriend (Justin Long). Things are good. She isn’t exactly the ambitious type, but she’s trying to overcome her insecurities to earn a promotion to assistant manager. Her boss (David Paymer) suggests she needs to demonstrate an ability to “make the tough decisions” in order to get the position. Cue ethical test.
Christine’s next client is elderly, vaguely gypsy-looking Sylvia Ganush (Lorna Raver), who has come to ask the bank for a third extension on her mortgage payment. Like the career gal she’s trying to be, Christine says no. The poor woman literally begs, a scene ensues, and in the end Mrs. Ganush, who is beginning to look less sympathetic and more menacing by the moment, accuses Christine of “shaming her.”
After Christine and Mrs. Ganush have a spectacular fight in the parking garage, Mrs. Ganush curses Christine with the Lamia, a demon who will torment Christine for three days, then drag her to hell on the fourth.
So the good-hearted, insecure young woman striving for a promising career now must do anything she can to escape an eternity of torment.
How perfect is that? In the midst of our economic disaster, Raimi makes a movie about a banker being pursued by the scariest demon imaginable.
That scenario might urge us to expect two hours of beating up on a stand-in for the financial industry, but Christine is a good person who we like a lot. Lohman plays a fine everywoman who merely wants what most of us do: a good-paying job and a solid relationship.
In fact, there are no ulterior motives here at all. Raimi manages to gross us out, scare us and crack us up all in the same movie. “Drag Me to Hell” is simply a helluva lot of fun.
Not everyone enjoys Raimi’s oddball mix of horror and comedy, but here’s why it works: in a Raimi movie you never know whether the quiet, foreboding moments are leading up to a joke or a scare. If nothing else, the comedy provides a perfect misdirection and keeps us on the edge. Besides, horror movies are pretty silly most of the time, so why not have some fun with the genre?
This isn’t Raimi’s best work, but at least he’s being himself. Even above-average Raimi horror is better than those vanilla Spider-Man movies.
Horror fans and Raimi devotees should love “Drag Me to Hell,” and everyone else will be seeing “Up” this weekend anyway.
Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.